Below are the slides for and the approximate text of a talk I gave at the 2013 MLA convention as part of a panel on “Convergent Histories of the Book: From Manuscript to Digital” organized by Alex Mueller and Mike Johnston. I spoke ex tempore, so my text here won’t precisely line up with what I said at the MLA, but the gist should be the same. I’ve indicated where the slide changes are and after each change have inserted a footnote linking to source and, where available, a link to the image. I’ve also indicated my indebtedness to other scholars, particularly Jeffrey Todd Knight and Adam Smyth, in the notes.
I want to talk today about how early print complicates any trajectory from manuscript to digital, focusing on some common mistaken assumptions that are made about early print. The first assumption we make is that print replaced manuscript, that once the printing press was invented, writing by hand withered away. § continue reading →
It’s been much longer since I’ve written a proper post here than I meant for it to be. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy over at The Collation, running the show and writing my own contributions. There’s lots of good stuff over there, including a whole world of manuscript exploration that I don’t do here; check out Heather Wolfe’s and Nadia Seiler’s interesting posts if you like that sort of thing (and if you don’t think you do, browse anyway and you’ll learn that you do!). And if you’re looking for advice on using Folger digital resources, like searching Luna and the power of permanent URLs and Mike Poston’s new tool, Impos[i]tor, the tooltips series is for you.
In any case, this post isn’t meant to be an advertisement, but to do a pretty picture penance: sharing some great book images, even if I don’t have the time to talk in any detail about them. § continue reading →
This week in class I showed my students (too briefly) one of my favorite books in the Folger’s collections, a 1483 printing by William Caxton of John Gower’s long poem Confessio amantis, written some hundred years earlier. I do not love this book because of its text—if I confess that I’ve never read the poem, will you hold it against me?—nor because of its author. I think it’s pretty cool that it was printed by Caxton, the man who established printing in England, and of course, there’s always kind of a thrill to any incunabula, but that’s not it either. No, I love this book because of the traces of its later owners, traces that interact with the text, traces that are all about the book but not the text, and traces that seem to have nothing to do with anything.
Here’s one set of marks that are fabulous:
It’s a little hard to see what’s going on, so here’s a detail:
getting rid of the pope
Do you see what the reader has done? § continue reading →
My last post focused on my frustration with the assumption that digitization is primarily about access to text:
But access is not all that digitization can do for us. Why should we limit ourselves to thinking about digital facsimiles as being akin to photographs? Why should we think about these artifacts in terms only of the texts they transmit? Let’s instead think about digitization as a new tool that can do things for us that we wouldn’t be able to see without it. Let’s use digitization not only to access text but to explore the physical artifact.
I spent the remainder of that post brainstorming some suggestions about what digitization might enable other than access to text, and there were some great comments about the ramifications of textualizing the digital that I’m still mulling over. In this post I want to offer some examples of why we might want to look at books rather than digital surrogates as a way of approaching the relationship between digital and physical from another angle. § continue reading →
I’ve been looking at another book that a student was working on. It’s unprepossessing on the outside, just a small, worn brown leather binding, with the remains of ties that have long since disappeared. But the book is much more interesting on the inside. Take a gander at some of the photos I snapped (I did these with my cell phone, so they’re not super high quality, but they’re not too bad either):
The whole book is like this, covered with marginalia. There are manicules, trefoils, asterisks, notes more and less extensive. It’s a seriously used book.
And do you know who used this book so seriously? He inscribed his name right there on the title page:
O rare Ben Jonson! And while Jonson’s book when he used it might seem unprepossessing, later owners certainly valued it for its association and house it accordingly, in its own locked box.
There’s much more to be said about Jonson and his books but I wanted to get these pictures up before they burned a hole in my pocket. § continue reading →
A quick but important announcement first: I am hosting the next early modern edition of Carnivalesque. Please nominate your favorite early modern blog posts by using the Carnivalesque nomination form, commenting here, or by emailing me directly (you can find my email address through my profile). The no-holds-barred Carnival fun and wisdom is scheduled for publication on March 21st, so get me pointed in the right direction now!
And that last bit is my not very subtle transition to the lovely pictures below. I promised my last commenter that I would follow up that great pointing forefinger (or Fonz’s thumb, depending on your tastes) with some more examples. So here’s another great set of pointing fingers, this time complete with fancy ruffles. This is from a 1475 commentary on Aristotle–again, more commentary on commentary, as we saw with the Boethius. Some genres of writing would seem to invite more pointing notes than others.
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